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Capitals still looking for trading partner

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Capitals still looking for trading partner

Even though the 2015 NHL draft came and went without the Capitals making a significant trade, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan still believes the trade market – and not the free agent market -- is the best place for him to improve his soon-to-be-depleted roster for next season.

“I anticipate not being active right off the hop,” MacLellan told reporters when asked about his plans for Wednesday’s start of free agency. “I don’t know if we have the money to be able to do that.

“If you’re evaluating both markets the trade [market] is the way to go for improving your club.”

Last year, MacLellan admits he overspent in the free agent market, signing defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to a combined 12 years and $67 million.

But after offering what he termed a “huge” contract offer to restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby, MacLellan said the Caps are not in a position to be a big player in this year’s free-agent market.

“We made Holtby a good offer,” MacLellan said, declining to disclose the term or value. “I think it’s competitive and I think it’s a fair offer and I think we’ll get something done.”

The same cannot be said, at least immediately, about restricted free agent forward Marcus Johansson, who was given a qualifying offer of $2.175 million, equal to his 2014-15 salary. If Johansson is looking for $4 million a season and the Caps are only willing to pay him $3 million, his case could go to an NHL arbitrator.

It was with that in mind that the New York Rangers traded restricted free agent forward Carl Hagelin to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem and a second-round pick on Saturday, figuring he would cost them more than $3.5 million next season and more than $4 million in future years.

The Capitals currently have about $21 million in salary space and likely will be losing defenseman Mike Green and forwards Joel Ward and Eric Fehr to free agency. Assuming the Caps come to an agreement with Holtby, restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov and unrestricted free agent Jay Beagle, they would have nine forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season with an estimated $9 or $10 million left over to fill three forward spots, including Johansson’s.

If Johansson eats up $4 million, MacLellan would be left with roughly $5 million or $6 million to land a top-line right wing and a depth defenseman.

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS BOLSTER BLUE LINE THROUGH DRAFT SATURDAY

Of course the Capitals could also free up cap space by trading a veteran like Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer or Jason Chimera. It is with all of that in mind that MacLellan wades trepidly into the trade/free agent waters.

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Sharp, 33, is an attractive possibility, but he carries a cap hit of $5.9 million for two more years.

Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata, 34, is coming off a 31-goal season and has one year and $5 million left on his deal.

T.J. Oshie, 28, has put up similar offensive numbers as Johansson, and carries two more years at $4.175 million each.

Perhaps the best bargain out there is Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo, but Brooklyn/New York general manager Garth Snow changed his tune before the draft, saying he “doesn’t plan” on trading the 27-year-old right wing, who has one year and $4.5 million remaining on his contract.

MacLellan said he’s hopeful that some of the trade talks he initiated before and during this weekend’s draft result in a trade that addresses the Capitals’ needs, which are now at the forward position.

“There were a couple opportunities that were discussed and might still be ongoing,” MacLellan said. “Well see what happens over the next few days and weeks. A lot of talk happened in general over the past week. Some things happened and some things didn’t and some things are still ongoing. I think now it turns into players, but it might be picks involved in next year’s draft, too.”

MacLellan said there is still a chance that he invites a pending UFA to Washington to meet with ownership and the coaching staff prior to Wednesday’s free agency period but did not confirm that will happen.

Thane Campbell, the agent for Los Angeles Kings soon-to-be free agent Justin Williams, declined to say whether the 33-year-old right wing and three-time Stanley Cup champion planned on visiting Washington, saying he did not want to create a more competitive market than already exists go his client.

As for MacLellan, he said he’ll return to D.C. and devise a strategy for the start of free agency.

“We’ll monitor the market,” he said, “and see what the [pay] levels are at and see where we can jump in.” 

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

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NBC Sports Washington

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.  

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